So Many Diagnoses (An Opinion)

I remember when I’d have to acknowledge to myself that the struggle is real, and therefore my attitude should be real, as well. So I shifted to a proper attitude towards living with a mental health condition, or conditions (or whatever you prefer calling it).

Technically, a therapist can diagnose me with the following: obsessive compulsive disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, anxiety, and depression. It’s possible that I would even have symptoms of another condition as well, although all are related to the same ocd and ocpd symptoms. Personally, I believe that ocd is my “foundational” condition- the others are based on it.

That’s a lot of conditions (!). But it’s the truth- regardless of whether I had thought a while ago that it’s “freakish” or not true, and regardless of whether that might seem like attention-seeking or “martyr-searching” in nature.

 

brown road sign on pavement near mountain
Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

There are several negatives of so many different classifications when it comes to mental health conditions. First, it’s hard for me to believe that all these “conditions” are really different. If my depression results from me suffering from ocd symptoms, that cannot be “depression” necessarily, can it? Some people are quite depressed but cannot easily determine why that is.

Second, I think it creates too much negativity and is actually quite confusing. If I go to a therapist for help, and they respond to me that I have this, this, this, and this, how will I feel?

 

It seems counter-intuitive. Analyze my different struggles, sure- although address my struggles with a specific therapy that would help.

Although that last sentence is how I feel, it isn’t reality. The reality is a therapist might help me with more than one type of therapy. But my point is, with much terminology and “different” conditions, how many does it take until things seem too complex or demoralizing?

At the same time, there are a number of benefits of so many diagnoses. For example, ocd and ocpd are quite different. It helps tremendously to identify these symptoms in order to treat them. The analogy could be said, having more than one condition is like having several different personality traits. You can have many traits although still be the same person- in other words, what makes you, you.

It doesn’t feel quite right to say I have different conditions, because in reality it’s mental health struggles. While those struggles aren’t simple, I can relate to anyone else who has been anxious, or depressed, or suffered from other mental health conditions. There seems to be a common denominator for people who’ve experienced this.

These are my opinions on whether it helps or hurts to have a number of different diagnoses for similar conditions. At the end of the day, how do we help people live at their maximum mental health levels?

I’ve wrote a bit, and there’s probably a lot more to be said on this by others. While there are many diagnoses, this is only one opinion.

The Past is the Present, and the Present is the Future

 

Portugal

 

For those of us who face a mental health challenge in our lives, we’ve likely “lost” a lot.

I put “lost” in quotation marks because I’m not really sure it’s a loss, as much as it’s part of the challenges we face. Studies find that for people who live with ocd, on average, it takes between 14 to 17 years to receive proper treatment. Read that again. 14 to 17 years.

Years and years of torturous intrusive thoughts, or severe contamination, or scrupulous beliefs of guilt and shame, which eat away at a person’s well-being- physically, mentally, and emotionally. Is there anything really to gain from all that suffering?

In Victor Frankl’s worldwide bestselling book Man’s Search for Meaning, he details a type of psychotherapy he invented named logotherapy. I cannot more strongly recommend reading this book if you haven’t.

According to Frankl, “logotherapy focuses on the search for the meaning of human existence.” In other words, people can find meaning in suffering, and essentially come to terms with it, if they have a reason as to why they’re suffering. As a psychotherapist and holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl’s ideas are very fitting. While in a Nazi concentration camp, he reminded himself that he needed to endure the war because he had unfinished work to do as a psychotherapist.

How can people reconcile that which they’ve “lost” to mental health challenges? While I fully believe in the concepts of logotherapy, I’ll present this question with another answer.

There exists the idea that our life is not made up of the past, present, and future. Rather, we have one whole life- past, present, and future are just one long timeline which can be viewed as one “moment” (even if that “moment” is 70, 80, or hopefully, 100+ years long).

No matter what challenges we face in life, our difficulties in the past are not set in stone. We can rectify past negative results in the here and now. And, we can prepare ourselves in the here and now to succeed in the future. Therefore you can argue that life is not made up of past, present, and future. Rather, life is one moment, no matter how long that moment is.

This might sound like overly positive thinking, but for us who’ve had our setbacks from adverse mental health, I think it’s a great attitude to have. Those setbacks are certainly extremely difficult when they occur, and I’ve found from my own experience, some setbacks are never completely fixed.

Obsessive compulsive disorder can lead to anxiety, and these can lead to depression. Fix one and you don’t necessarily fix the others. I speak from experience. This past week, I mentioned to someone that I have ocd, and the person responded, “I would have never thought you have ocd”. Yes, I now manage it down to minimal levels which don’t affect me that much, though I do have significant levels of anxiety very often.

I am still affected by one “condition” or another, even if those “conditions” waver in strength. I would say I’ve “lost” quite a bit to ocd, as would anyone who has lived with clinically diagnosed ocd.

Although if I take the approach that in the present, I can rectify what I’ve lost in the past, then in the future I might not have lost anything.

Thankful for What I Didn’t Have

Living with ocd will teach many lessons. Some of these will be harsh, but many are very valuable, and probably even invaluable.

I remember watching a hockey game during which a young girl was being honored for battling cancer, as part of the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative. I remember she had said something remarkable-  that she was thankful for having battled cancer, because it made her a better person and she was truly able to appreciate life.

Honestly, this is an extraordinary lesson to learn. Are we able to truly be thankful for, and deeply appreciate, what we have in life? Or, can we only truly appreciate all that we have, once we realize we never had it or were missing it for a period of time?

 

Tivoli

 

Personally, the latter way is the most complete thankfulness which we can feel. Part of human nature is that we adapt to our surroundings and situation, and
that over time, we lose track of certain essential details. It’s true that all that is new and shiny will turn old and faded. We can still appreciate something old and faded, only if we truly appreciate those objects for their true worth.

So, a deep thankfulness is felt when we have something that we didn’t have. “We didn’t know what we were missing”, is the feeling that most strongly strikes us and makes us realize what we didn’t have.

I’ve battled ocd for long enough to learn some harsh lessons, but also many invaluable ones. Living with a strong presence of contamination ocd will destroy most of your surroundings- your personal belongings and living environment can become so “contaminated” that life basically becomes unlivable.

There was a time (thankfully, a very long time ago) when I would only wear two outfits that I owned. If you think about that, you’ll realize that once I changed outfits from number one to number two, I’d need to wash outfit number one. So a laundry cycle consisted of one outfit. Surely, I was not living a very productive life. And surely, there are unfortunately way worse effects of contamination ocd.

One of the invaluable lessons I’ve learned from ocd is to be appreciative and thankful. Sometimes I’ll get dressed in a hurry and not have time to think, but when I’m not in a hurry, I’ll honestly try to take a bit of time and appreciate the clothing I’m putting on.

The same goes for getting a drink of water from the kitchen. There was a time I wouldn’t use a glass in my house- so I can appreciate the glass I’m drinking from. Or better yet, I can open my closet with much thankfulness, and look upon my personal items and clothing and think, “Wow, I have so much! I once would only use two outfits!”

Ideally, I strive to appreciate and be thankful for all that I have. Sometimes though, I have a much deeper appreciation and thankfulness for what I once didn’t have.

A Responsibility, and an Opportunity

blog photo

“The people living with the condition are the experts.”

– Michael J. Fox

I vividly remember sitting in the crowd at an IOCDF Conference session, “Athletes and OCD” this summer, and asking a question afterwards.

I asked the panel of speakers for their thoughts on whether athletes should speak publicly about mental health struggles or not. Is it beneficial for them and others in the long run, considering the athletes have a profound platform to advocate for mental health?

Most of the experts felt it was beneficial for the general public if these athletes did speak up, although one expert was playing devil’s advocate, at least for a change in opinion. Maybe athletes shouldn’t speak up- after all, they don’t need extra scrutiny from fans and media, and they have a right to live privately and keep the mental health challenge to themselves. That seems fair enough.

For those of us who’ve dealt with mental health adversity in our lives, I’d say we have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to speak up. At times I dislike speaking up, mainly because I might seem like an attention-seeker. Although I do so because I feel it’s the right thing.

The public perception of what ocd actually is, is very, very far from reality. Honestly, I don’t believe you can truly know what ocd is without personally knowing someone living with ocd. It’s a personal aspect of our lives. It affects, at times, large portions of our daily life. You cannot see these aspects without knowing the thoughts in our brains, which is an impossible task.

The general perception of ocd is false because some aspects are overblown, while others are so “taboo” that no one is likely to speak publicly about them, or possibly even because those aspects would be even harder to believe! Sure, ocd can be excessive hand-washing, and extreme organization and neatness, but very often it has nothing to do with these.

To be honest, I’m partially guilty of this. I write this blog and hope to advocate and spark some change in the way we view ocd and mental health in general, but rarely do I speak with detail about certain obsessions, and some obsessions I never speak publicly about. It’s the classic line, “You wouldn’t understand…”, that dominates that thought process.

Therefore the problem goes in circles. That’s why I encourage others, and including myself, to try as best as possible to describe this “condition” which can be so ridiculous. So ridiculous that recently while watching the World Series, for three innings (or more), I was chasing down the rabbit hole of thought of whether I actually liked baseball or not, and whether I should even be watching the game in the first place!

So, it’s a responsibility (of course, only if you’re comfortable enough), and an opportunity, to speak openly and with detail about mental health adversity. Although, the dilemma continues, until we make the choice to speak up and don’t look back.

The “Voices” in My Head

 

photography of person walking on road
Photo by Leo Cardelli on Pexels.com

It’s probably fair to say that each of us have at least one “voice” in our head. Call it what you will- your intuition, or your “heart”, or your internal self, unaffected by the external environment. Whatever that voice is called, chances are we listen to it more than we realize.

For someone with ocd, add in the “voice of ocd”. If I were to describe this voice, it would best be described as some sort of self-questioning, self-doubt, and over-analytical voice in my head. This is the voice that will call from behind, saying “WAIT! You acted disrespectfully in public.” Or, worse yet, “WAIT! If you continue on this path, you will never reach your goals in life!” Ridiculous- but, the voice of ocd is still present in my head (ridiculous is usually the name of the game with ocd).

Then there’s the “voice of depression”. For people with ocd, depression is quite common as a by-product of ocd. It’s just natural because at some point, ocd was troubling enough to the point of suffering, which led to depression. So, the voice declares, “You are worthless.” And, worse yet, “You should be happy. You have everything you could ask for in life- food, clothing, a roof above your head, some money in your pocket- and yet you still aren’t happy. There must be something wrong with you.”

There could even be the “voice of anxiety” too. I once read a quote somewhere along the lines of, “Having anxiety is caring too much, having depression is caring too little, and having both is hell.” Honestly, that sums it up quite accurately.

The bad news about all these voices is, at the very least they are annoying. But they can easily become worse than that if I listen to them. Generally, the more you listen to these voices, the louder the voices become, and the more frequently these voices speak up.

The good news about all these voices is, truthfully they’re only “voices in my head”, and nothing more than that. It’s just inner speech, and for someone with ocd, that speech can be very, very frequent. Although the more I simply drop the conversation and walk away, the better off I am.

It takes some practice, and still does, to quiet these voices. My time and my well-being are both way more important than self-questioning, self-doubt, and overthinking, so it’s a worthy effort. In reality though, I’m not really quieting the “voices” in my head- I am just not listening to what they have to say, no matter how loud they may say it.

 

I Am Not a Complainer

For someone who lives with quite the amount of anxiety, you might think that writing a blog about mental health would create a whole lot more. And it does give me a little anxiety, I must admit, but it’s really not too bad.

Personally, the easiest decisions in my life are the most important ones. It seems strange, but deep down I know what I really want, so those decisions are easy. Although the trivial decisions, such as deciding which color t-shirt or hat to buy, becomes a seemingly endless experience!

I really wanted to start this blog only several months ago, and I’m very glad I did. However, writing and talking about mental health can cause some anxious thoughts.

I am not a complainer. I am not a downer. I am not searching for sympathy or seeking attention when speaking publicly about mental health. I view it as a goal of mine that anything I can contribute to “normalizing” mental health stigma, I want to achieve.

 

alone man person sadness
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

As a society, we often greet people with “Hi, how are you?”- so much so that the words are almost mechanical. “Fine” or “Good” are almost habitual answers. But the truth is (and the numbers back it), that we are not all “Fine” or “Good” as much as we say. Why can’t we say we struggle if we do, at least sometimes?

I think the answer is that we’re afraid of what people will think. For me, it seems it’s a lose-lose situation. If I always say I’m “Fine”, I’m a liar (which is a loss). If I say I’m struggling with this and that, I can come across as a complainer, a downer, and no one is going to want to talk to me any longer (another loss).

So how does someone speak about any personal struggle? We ALL have struggles- it’s part of life’s foundations. And we can each lend a hand to each other for help.

If I’m listening to someone speak about struggles, I’m listening with a sympathetic ear. I’m not judging because I don’t know all the details. If someone struggles with substance abuse, for example, there can be any number of reasons why that struggle came to be. It’s likely not because the person’s a “drunk”, and it’s not necessarily of the person’s own doing.

Yes, I know listening to someone else’s problems can be tedious sometimes. But if we are in good health ourselves on those days, it’s not a big deal at all to listen. And not only that, but if we listen with sympathy and aren’t judgmental, chances are we can talk more openly about our struggles and overcome them together.

Despite me sometimes saying “I’m struggling”, or “Honestly, I’m not doing that well”, I am not a complainer. I am also not a downer.

I simply believe that being open about our struggles can help us overcome them. So if I’m struggling, I’m not afraid to say so.

 

 

 

 

 

#SameHere: Real Life Heroes Do Exist

I’m completely honest in saying I haven’t seen many superhero movies in my life, although I don’t live under a rock. I’m aware how popular Marvel movies are, and I can understand why that is- supernatural abilities and personalities capture our imagination in a special way.

I do live with a mental health condition, or conditions, depending on how technical you get. While that’s not necessarily a good thing, it has allowed me to meet special people in my life- people who are literally heroes to me despite whether they know it or not. And honestly, they probably don’t have any idea.

When Robin Lehner, National Hockey League goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks, released his story of battling bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse, and PTSD and trauma, he earned the title of real life hero.

 

Same Here
Photo credit NHL.com

 

Lehner has become an increasingly powerful mental health advocate, and he is continuing his efforts. This upcoming season he will wear a goalie mask (pictured above) with the hashtag, “#SameHere”, which is a movement to destroy the stigma of mental health.

But that’s only the here and now. This past June, Lehner was awarded the NHL’s Bill Masterton Trophy, the annual award given to the player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”

In his acceptance speech, standing in front of fellow professional hockey players, he delivered a line I will absolutely never forget. “I am not ashamed to say I am mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak.”

Robin Lehner is anything but mentally weak. It cannot be underestimated how much of a brave decision it was to release his story while he is a current player. There are many athletes who’ve publicly described their mental health battles, and I’m very proud of them all for doing so.

Though Lehner took a big risk in doing so. He was open about his struggle when searching for a new team to play for, once his stint with the Buffalo Sabres was finished. Tremendous credit should also be noted for the New York Islanders organization and head coach Barry Trotz, for supporting Lehner by offering him a contract, resulting in him being the starting goalie.

Lehner went on to have a career best year last season for the Islanders, but his achievements go exponentially further beyond the ice. He continues to strongly advocate for destroying mental health stigma, and this is all while still playing professional hockey. Who knows what he’ll achieve in the future?

I can go on and on about Robin Lehner. I’m extremely glad that the NHL has regularly posted articles about this topic on their website, and am also glad that many hockey fans have left social media posts and comments stating their appreciation and support for Lehner’s bravery.

To anyone out there who struggles with mental health, Robin Lehner would say “Same Here”. Those are the words of a real life hero.

There’s No Place like Home

Austin Mural

 

As I took my seat and stared out the window on my way to Austin for the International OCD Foundation’s annual conference, something coincidental occurred. Just as I sat down, the man in front of me turned around and asked, “Sir, can I borrow your phone?- I need to make a phone call, I just got out of prison.”

Now, my anxiety was kind of spiked, considering I was already exhausted after waking at 6:45 am, not yet having my breakfast, and it being a travel day. I told him just a minute, and ended up offering him my phone. Of course I offered it to him, and he was very polite, but it just seems coincidental that this happened.

I was both honored and grateful to be a member of the conference, and a presenter on two sessions (!!), in only my second year in attendance. If I thought my first time attending would be special, the second time absolutely blew me away without warning.

I don’t think I can really, truly, deep down appreciate what the conference means to me. The other members, both young and old, speakers and professionals, and every other single person there mean so much to me. It just feels like home. And it feels like I never want to leave. Because I really don’t.

What is so striking about the conference is the positivity, belief, and hope that fills the hotel walls in which it takes place. Bear in mind that ocd is a debilitating mental health condition, with no “cure”. These people understand what it’s truly like to live every day with ocd, and without a doubt every person has paid a price financially, mentally, and emotionally to be there.

How can people who suffer and endure so much be so kind, warm, funny, thoughtful, and positive? Why is everyone so welcoming, as if we were actually family? Why do more and more people attend every year- resulting in the largest attendance ever of over 2,000 people?

How can I even put into words what this all means, and what it all means to me, personally? I find that every year I leave with more questions than answers- resulting in me still needing to unpack both my mind full of thoughts and my suitcase (yes, my suitcase is still packed for days now).

I’m back home now, and unfortunately I’ll have to come back down to earth sooner or later. The experiences and relationships I’ve created and strengthened haven’t left me, and they never will. Because as I often find, on my most difficult days when ocd is trying to wedge its’ way into my life and wreak havoc, I remember the conference and the special people who make it what it is.

Since returning home, I feel like I’m living my whole life with Bon Iver’s “Holocene” playing in the background over and over. There’s something about the line, “And at once I knew, I was not magnificent”, that gets me every time. And even though I’m back home, I feel like something’s out of place.

There’s truly no place like home.

 

Not an Adjective

The Last Night in London

London 1

 

I am pacing slowly on a cobblestone street outside my hotel, as the drizzle comes down on a chilly London night. It’s the last night of my vacation, before I head home after my long awaited trip to one of the most interesting cities in the world- especially for a soccer fan.

I have a problem- not because I am readying for a flight the next day. Not because I am upset to leave and return to my daily life. It’s just, I am thinking that for some reason, I didn’t quite enjoy my vacation to the fullest.

I go back and forth in my mind making sense of why I haven’t enjoyed this trip to it’s fullest. I have enjoyed it, but, not enough. Why?

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why. This night happened just over a year ago. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but if there was ever a moment in time where I began to face ocd and anxiety, this was it. It was the beginning. And for that, I will always be thankful to myself, because it was a huge step in helping myself with the challenge of living with ocd and anxiety.

I will often ask myself questions about my state of being. How am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? What next steps do I take?- whether I’m doing well or not. I try to control my emotions, something common for people with anxiety I suppose. Although it doesn’t seem all that healthy.

The common thought is, you cannot help yourself overcome any challenge in life without first admitting it’s there. It’s so, so true. I was pushed to admitting to myself (the most important person in this case), that I have ocd and I have to be fair with myself. I had to confront this challenge so that I can live a healthier, happier life.

The thing is, ocd will basically wedge its way into any uncertainties in life, and start wrecking havoc once inside. For people with ocd, it will eat away at the things deemed most important to them. For someone who’s religious, the problem could manifest in extreme amounts of prayers or confessions to others. For someone who’s concerned with being healthy, it could manifest in excessive hand washing or not allowing others to touch their food.

 

London 2

 

These are only two of the ways it could manifest- there are literally millions of more ways. For me, I had extreme anxiety at one point because my mind would fixate on the uncertainty of whether or not I truly liked soccer! It’s only one example of how ocd will take away the things you enjoy and care about most.

If ocd was a factor in me not enjoying my vacation to the fullest, so be it. Now that I can look back, I can honestly say it was helpful to have that experience. And if it has led
me to helping myself with ocd and anxiety, that is something I can definitely enjoy.

 

 

 

Creating a Culture

Sports coaches will often use a term that’s become a bit cliché- “We need to establish our identity.” It’s a pretty simple concept, which roughly means that a team should play to it’s own strengths and play in a manner that characterizes that specific team’s personality.

Another similar concept that’s often mentioned is to “create a culture”. Teams want to establish their identity, play to their strengths, and foster optimism, positivity, togetherness, and other traits that make up a healthy group of players.

 

Beach

 

It’s with this concept that I strive to implement for myself on a daily basis. I focus on creating a culture that allows me to be the best version of myself as possible, on each given day. I think to myself, “what do I want to achieve?, how do I want to achieve it?, and what challenges are expected, and how can I navigate my way through them?”

Living with a mental health condition is usually extremely difficult. Everyone has challenges in life, though it seems people with a mental health condition have it extra hard. Maybe I’m biased. Although it truly seems (which I can confirm) that a mental health condition can cause an extra set of challenges (and sometimes an enormously extra set).

That’s why I feel like creating a culture is so important, especially for people going through something extremely difficult. It’s easy to get swept up in a tornado of challenges in life. It’s easy to lose focus on the positives at times, especially when we cannot always see the light at the end of the tunnel.

By creating a culture, we can train our brains to think and act in a positive way. If I tell myself that no matter what challenges or difficulties arise during the day, I will overcome them- then I can be better prepared to react positively to a negative result.

I strive for my own culture where I stay focused and at ease mentally (difficult for someone with anxiety), where I can stay true to myself and what I stand for when problems arise, and where I don’t allow things out of my control to change my actions.

By creating a culture, I give myself a better opportunity to succeed. And within that culture, I trust and believe in myself to take full advantage of that opportunity.